In March 2020 when national restrictions were put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic organisations across the UK were challenged to drastically transform the way in which they supported the people they worked with.
The team here at HOOT Creative Arts rose to the challenge, and developed and implemented a number of new ways people could access creative activities that benefitted their mental health and wellbeing at a time when many more people were experiencing isolation, loneliness and mental ill health.
In this feature, we explore how Creative Pathways manager, Michael, used technology to make sure that HOOT artists could still be face to face with people signed up to HOOT’s creative activities.
About Creative Pathways
HOOT’s Creative Pathways project focuses on offering creative activities for wellbeing to people with enduring mental health difficulties who are receiving inpatient care, or living within supported accommodation.
For many of Creative Pathways' participants community based services and activities are often either unsuitable, or unable to support their additional needs at the current point on the individual’s recovery journey. Creative Pathways brings the therapeutic benefits of arts and creativity directly to these people, supporting them to participate to their full potential.
Social isolation is a key issue for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Even within residential settings, people can often be socially isolated with limited social interactions with other residents, and low attendance at activities within their ‘home’ communities, i.e. the setting in which they live.
Creative Pathways activities have focused on bringing people together with a shared purpose, to create something together - whether that’s a piece of music, a poem, or a piece of artwork to feature in the building or gardens where participants currently live. Through the activity, people build social connections and bonds with each other and with the staff who support them, and this in turn supports improved wellbeing as part of their recovery.
"Necessity is the mother of invention"
In March 2020, when the national lockdown came into force it was a priority for Creative Pathways project manager, Michael Dollan, to find a sustainable way of continuing delivery to ensure that residents didn’t lose the valuable community that was building around activities and the relationships developing between peers who had previously been isolated.
Lockdown presented many new challenges so it was essential that the Creative Pathways activities were simple enough for staff teams to incorporate into their new routines whilst still offering positive benefits to those attending. Drawing on his experience in using everyday technology to support access to activities, and with some inspiration from a famous TV series, Michael set to work developing a model of delivery that could ensure that the people living in supported accommodation could continue to meet and work together on something creative, whilst crucially still being guided by and interacting with a HOOT artist in real time. Hoot’s visual artist Sally Barker joined Michael in trialling the process themselves in order to troubleshoot, before a trial session was attempted with the NHS partner staff.
Face to Face, remotely
On 27th May the first session using this methodology was delivered by Sally, to a group of participant residents in a local Rehabilitation and Recovery Hospital. Sally appeared live in the session via video call on a tablet device, whilst a second camera focussed on Sally’s own artwork. This approach allowed attendees to clearly see and hear the artist leading the session, with the whole group gathered (socially distanced) at the start to watch Sally’s demonstration of techniques. The portability of the tablet meant Sally could still ‘walk’ around the room and respond to directly to individual participants’ queries through “face to face”, tailored individual support or demonstrations – just as she would if there in person. This all meant the sessions could run as close as possible to a “normal” in person session
Running sessions in this way was not without its challenges and Creative Pathways focused on making delivery as simple as possible for all involved. Some art forms translated more readily to this format than others, and the artist needed to respond and interpret quickly and sensitively, to see beyond the limitations of camera and screen. A 4G tablet device was purchased in order to mitigate WiFi problems, and was fully set up for us before being sent to the location. Michael also provided an accessible guide to using apps and settings which would allow any staff member to set up for the session swiftly, and support them to troubleshoot any minor technical issues. In addition, all arts resources were purchased by HOOT and delivered to the service/accommodation directly in time for the session each week.
The ‘buy in’ from NHS colleagues and their solution focussed approach to engaging with this new delivery method at a time of great stress and massively increased workload clearly demonstrated their belief in the efficacy of the work, and it’s benefits to their service users. Staff also said that they have themselves found this delivery beneficial, and that it has supported reduction in their workload during a very stressful period of time.
Connection and Confidence
The Covid-19 pandemic meant some of our participants had not been able to leave their unit, or see friends and families since lockdown began. Through this unique delivery method and its focus on enabling the interactions between participants, staff and artist, Creative Pathways has allowed session attendees to build confidence and develop social bonds with each other, despite lockdown and other public health restrictions. People who attend the sessions regularly chat together during and after the activity, and staffs say that the activities are always mentioned to medical staff during ward rounds.
Since 27th May 2020, HOOT has delivered 21 Creative Pathways activities live and direct to supported accommodation or in-patient services. The positive outcomes hugely outweigh any technical issues or other problems and the delivery partners are invested in working closely with Creative Pathways and HOOT to ensure that activities can continue.
This model of delivery is robust and has the possibility of delivering many types of visual arts or creative writing activities in a number of in-patient or supported housing settings. With more technical equipment, there is also capacity for further growth in order that more people with enduring mental health needs can benefit from improved wellbeing and social connection through participation in creative arts activities. In our evaluative conversations NHS colleagues said that they would highly recommend other services engaging with Hoot using this methodology.
Creative Pathways is funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation until 30th June 2021, however HOOT is working hard to find ways to sustain this important service that bridges the gap with wider community services, and allows people with enduring mental health difficulties to discover how being creative can make you feel good.